RED WING — The option to step down or be fired provided to be no option at all, former Red Wing Chief of Police Roger Pohlman said in breaking his silence Feb. 20. Pohlman, whom the City Council terminated the night before, released his first public comment Saturday afternoon since being placed on paid administrative leave Monday, Feb. 8.
"After deciding, in secret and behind closed doors, to 'move in a different direction' with respect to the Police Department, the Red Wing City Council presented me with two options: Resign and retain some earned benefits or receive a non-disciplinary termination of employment," he wrote. "My oath of office to the community and Police Department is not completed, therefore resignation was not an option."
The council met 75 minutes in a closed session Friday, Feb. 19. Members emerged and voted 6-1 with no discussion to issue a disciplinary letter, naming neither Pohlman nor the reason for their decision. Kim Beise voted no.
City Council Administrator Kay Kuhlmann then had a Red Wing police officer deliver the letter to Pohlman in his home that evening.
Partial contents of that three-page letter -- called disciplinary rather than nondisciplinary -- signed by Council President Becky Norton soon began circulating the community. She wrote that a performance evaluation found a lack of trust. The letter accused him of:
• appointing police officers to the Advisory Team without council input
• demonstrating defensiveness and "an unwillingness to take feedback and to grow"
• failing to respond to citizens and to timely and effectively communicate with the council.
"Council members believe you have intentionally portrayed Council members as anti-police, when, in fact, their concerns were with your leadership and not with the performance of other members of the Police Department," the letter said.
The final sections of the disciplinary letter were blacked out.
In response, Pohlman's statement reads:
"I am proud to have served the people of Red Wing over the past eight years – leading an outstanding group of dedicated police officers that would be the envy of any small community anywhere in America. I loved my job. And our record of keeping Red Wing safe, engaging our citizens through community policing, and keeping an open-door policy with respect for all, speaks for itself. Nothing the council says or does can ever change that."
He thanked the citizens who provided support over the last two weeks as well as in the past, making special note of fellow veterans, Hispanic Outreach of Goodhue County, Red Wing faith-based groups, business owners, some former City Council members.
He listed state Rep. Barb Haley by name. She sent a letter to the City Council, Mayor Mike Wilson and Council Administrator Kay Kuhlmann on Wednesday, Feb. 17, supporting Pohlman. She wrote: “I believe that he has served our community well and I have found him to be a fair, honest, professional and committed public servant.”
Haley also stressed the need for transparency in this process:
“While respecting that the council has been elected to serve the citizens of Red Wing with decisions relating to city government, a number of citizens have contacted me with concerns about the lack of transparency by the City Council in both making this decision and the lack of clear explanation of why it was made. They now ask how the council will prioritize public safety. A week has gone by and the citizens of Red Wing still have no more information on what exactly caused the City Council to make this decision and they are seeking answers. The public deserves a functioning and well-run police department, something Chief Pohlman had delivered.”
Pohlman's statement Saturday concluded: "At this point, I don’t know what the future holds. But I know it will involve public service, and a continuing commitment to making the world a better place, however, and wherever I can."